14 January 2012

The Dharma of Ass Beatings, Blood Loss and Random Injuries

I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.” Chris Cleave, Little Bee

In the late summer of 2007, the SUV I was driving flipped over and skidded two hundred yards on its roof (I’m omitting surrounding details here for the sake of honoring my repression). When it was all over, I opened my eyes to discover I was dangling upside down in the passenger seat, with my head hovering over the steering wheel, inches away from a surface that resembled concrete. It was hard to tell because there were hoards of broken glass blurring my vision. I glanced over at where the passenger window used to be and saw that my left arm was covered in a granulated mixture of blood and glass that had impressed itself onto my skin.  If an evil fairy had magic dust, that bitch had just sprinkled it all over me and rubbed it into my arm’s epidermis as part of some evil fairy master plan.  As I stared at the open wound above my elbow, I remember thinking, “that’s odd, it doesn't even hurt.” Little did I know that adrenaline and shock serve as pain killers in these type of situations. Thankfully, I could move the rest of my body and cognitively process what had just happened. So, no brain damage or paralyzed limbs there. Phew. I'm not sure how many minutes passed but within a short period of time, a firefighter rescue team arrived and safely pulled me from my vehicle, secured me to a stretcher and transported me to the nearest emergency room. As I went through that scene so famously depicted in movies and evening television -- where I was pushed down that white hall, nearly blinded by bright fluorescent hospital lights, with doctors and nurses looking down at me and speaking in mysterious medical gibberish, I thought “Damn. I hope I can still start yoga teacher training next week.”

Are you still with me? I told that story just to get your attention and remind you to always wear your seat-belts! I’m a living, breathing seat-belt success story. OK, that’s not the real lesson here, but important nonetheless. I really used that story to deflect from the giant elephant in the room. You know the one. In recent days the internet has been foaming at the mouth thanks to a scandalous NYT article discussing yoga’s occasional ability to cause injuries.  It was really groundbreaking shit. Well, more shit than groundbreaking.  I've already thrown my useless 2 cents in the bucket and won't waste anymore time on it. The article did slightly steal my thunder however, because I started drafting this post (about my injuries) over the holidays, way before that article reared its ugly little head and was still in draft form.


That car accident was one of the scariest experiences of my life and probably my parents’ lives, and the lives of countless others who think I’m awesome and would naturally be devastated by my sudden death. On that night, my vehicle was completely totaled and I walked away a few hours later with no severe injuries, just a minor laceration on my left arm (the fairy dust looked worse than it really was). Thanks to an incredible support system, I could happily resume my life. There were many others before me who weren't so fortunate. The most difficult injury to overcome was the post-traumatic stress that hits after you've gone for a ride in a five thousand pound machine that decides to uncontrollably collide with the earth.  In the weeks following my accident, yoga and meditation helped me recover in ways that I can only describe as truly healing and immensely supportive.

For whatever reason, I was thinking about that accident as 2011 came to a close. Early on New Years Eve I was hanging at my parents’ house rubbing china gel on my lower back which had been feeling sore in recent days, when a powerful wave of gratitude suddenly came over me.  For once I had the time to get still, relax and exhale. I wasn't confined to an office chair and had all the freedom in the world to prop myself up on pillows, rub my muscles with smelly herbal ointments and take as many hot baths as I wanted. My slight physical discomfort had opened a golden door of liberation. Lying there in my blissful state, I glanced over at the scar that remained on my left arm and began to think about the other injuries from my past. How did they happen? And how did I handle them? Before long, I produced a mental inventory of all the injuries that had found their home with me at some point in the last nineteen years. I've listed some of the more noteworthy ones below starting with the earliest.
  • 11 yrs old: Fractured leg in Mexico by wandering onto playground eerily resembling construction site.
  • 13 yrs old: Sprained ankle in restaurant. Doc Martens were a size too big. It was the 90s.
  • 20 yrs old: Sprained ankle in Bilbao, Spain. No explanation needed. Injuries of these types expected during chupinazos where spontaneous piggy-back races are encouraged.
  • 26 yrs old to present: Torn hamstring in ashtanga yoga practice during upavishta konasa. Injury likely due to brain thinking about cupcakes or some other sugary pastry (unconfirmed).
  • 28 yrs old: Bruised knees, elbows and ego. Face met concrete in Dupont Circle while trying to walk and hold veggie wrap simultaneously.
  • 29 yrs old: Sprained/pulled/busted hand in Dupont Circle venue. Injury related to over-enthusiasm in running up flight of stairs for salsa dancing.

Alright. So, maybe these injuries weren't entirely life-changing or deserving of profound reflection. But, they affected my reputation psyche in some meaningful way. I can look back and proudly laugh, cry or cringe at the various beatings my body has taken. Whether they lasted a day, a month or a year, my injuries came with a beginning and an end. Yet the equally jarring nature of injuries can skyrocket many of us into a place of fear and opposition. We expend massive amounts of fruitless energy trying to determine who or what is to blame for our injuries. How much money do we spend on doctors, painkillers, therapists, products and general crap just for the purpose of reinforcing our belief that injuries must be done away with as quickly as possible? I’m not discouraging or undermining the use of healing therapy by any means. I’m a strong advocate of numerous rehabilitative methods. But rarely do those methods ask us to welcome our injuries and give them space to just be. Seldom does the message encourage us to invite an attitude of acceptance as a healing technique.

Injuries happen.  They just do. Kinda like GOP Presidential debates. Oftentimes to our detriment.  Especially when we wholeheartedly devote a large amount of time to a specific practice, the probability for injuries increases. If we drive a car everyday for twenty-six years the likelihood of being in a car accident is higher than if we only drove a few occasions in our lifetime. If we practice yoga 6 days a week for ten years, at some point we may pull a muscle. Basic laws of statistics aren't always on our side. But the path of devotion is not paved with lavender-scented Egyptian cotton. There are tests (and evil fairies) along the way. These tests may come in the form of injuries, heartbreak, betrayal, a sense of failure or some other affliction. It doesn't mean we should give up. Otherwise, why get out of bed in the mornings? Hopefully, whatever our practice is, it will allow us to courageously come face-to-face with our own suffering. If we open ourselves up to the possibility, an injury can be the greatest teacher of all. 

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